Friday, June 23, 2017

A brief history of Wonder Woman...

William Moulton Marston was born in Saugus, Massachusetts, in 1893. He was an oustanding student, and received his BA in 1915, his bachelor of laws in 1918 (until the 1940s, you could practice law with a bachelor's degree in the U.S.), and a PhD in Psychology in 1921 -- all from Harvard University.

Marson married his childhood sweetheart, Elizabeth Holloway, in 1915. They attended law school together after their marriage.

While teaching at Tufts University in 1925, Marston met Olive Byrne, niece of Margaret Sanger (the founder of Planned Parenthood). Byrne joined Marston and Holloway in a polyamorous relationship. Marston had two children with each woman.

Marston's research focused on physiological responses to mental stress. He developed that idea that a person's systolic blood pressure rose when lying, which became basis for the modern polygraph. From this work, Marston became convinced that women were more honest than men in certain situations, and could work faster and more accurately. He also developed a theory of psychology that used to axes (passive/active; favorable/antagonistic) that led him to see masculine notions of freedom as inherently anarchic and violent. The feminine notion of freedom involves submission to a loving authority.

On October 25, 1940, Family Circle magazine published an interview with Marston in which he discussed his psychological theories in terms of comic books. National Pediocials (the predecessor to DC Comics) publisher Max Gaines hired Marston as a consultant. Marston came up with the idea of a superhero who conquers not with violence but with love. Holloway wanted her to be a woman. Marston broached the concept with Gaines, who gave him the go-ahead to develop the character.

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Gaines assigned 61-year-old illustrator H.G. Peter to draw the character. Marston made suggestions to Peter based on the then-current ideas of what a "liberated woman" would look like (backless and strapless dress, flowing hair, short skirt). The concept of Wonder Woman's bracelets came from similar bracelets worn by Olive Byrne. The Lasso of Truth came from Marston's work with polygraphs.

Marston and his partners were into BDSM. From this evolved the idea that her super-strength could be taken away if she was bound by a man. Marston scripted all of Wonder Woman's early adventures, depicting Wonder Woman as able to ultimately free herself using her wits -- a tactic that suberted the "damsel in distress" trope.

Wonder Woman debuted in All Star Comics #8 (cover date December/January 1941/1942, but released in October 1941). In this and subsequent early stories, Wonder Woman was an Amazon who lived on Paradise Island, a magical place in the Caribbean to which the Amazon women of Greek myth had retreated. All Amazons were super-powered, but Princess Diana was the champion who won all their martial contests. When military intelligence officer Steve Trevor crashes his plane on Paradise Island, Princess Diana is selected to return him to "Man's World" and to fight crime and the Nazis.

Wonder Woman was depicted as equally as strong as Superman. She ran at a normal speed of 60 mph, and could jump off a skyscraper and land on her feet with ease. Amazons remained eternally youthful on Paradise Island by drinking from the Fountain of Eternal Youth. Although Diana no longer drank from the fountain and now aged naturally, its effects lingered in the form of giving her advanced healing capabilities. Wonder Woman also had a range of psychic powers, such as ESP, astral projection, telepathy, mental control over the electricity in her body, the ability to turn brain energy into muscle power, and the ability to send radio messages mentally. (This latter power was stripped from her in 1943, but she gained the immunity to electric shocks in the process.)

To live in "Man's World", Princess Diana took the secret identity of Diana Prince. There was a real Diana Prince, who was an Army nurse who bore a passing resemblance to Wonder Woman. The real Ms. Prince resigned from the Army to follow her war-wounded fiancée to South America. Wonder Woman gave her the money to get there, and took Diana Prince as her alias. As Diana Prince, Wonde Woman initially worked as an Army nurse and later as an Air Force secretary.

Marston died in 1947.

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In Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #98 (May 1958), writer Robert Kanigher revamped Wonder Woman's origin. Although a naturally-born child, Princess Diana was now shown to having been personally blessed by the gods after her birth: "Beautiful as Aphrodite, wise as Athena, as strong as Hercules, and as swift as Hermes."

A year later, in Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #105 (April 1959), Princess Diana's origin was revamped again. This time, she was formed out of clay by Queen Hippolyta, and brought to life by the gods. Her mental abilities were greatly restricted, so that now she only had limited telepathy. This second retcon introduced the idea that the Amazons had advanced scientific knowledge which all Amazonians were expert. Over the next few years, it was revealed that all Amazons had the ability to speak any language (including prehistoric "caveman" and several Martian languages), that Princess Diana had super-powerful breath like Superman, and that removing her bracelets would augment her power ten-fold (but cause her to go berserk).

In Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #178 (October 1968), writer Mike Sekowsky moved Paradise Island into another dimension. Wonder Woman decided to stay in "Man's World" to love Steve Trevor. But the island was her connection to her super-powers, and she lost them. So Wonder Woman became a fashion designer, and owner of a boutique clothing store.

Sekowsky killed off Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #179 (November 1968).

Under the mentorship of the Chinese martial arts expert I Ching, Diana swiftly gains extensive expertise in martial arts and weapons. (This version of Wonder Woman was deeply influenced by the Emma Peel character on television's The Avengers.)

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The powerless Wonder Woman proved immensely unpopular. In Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #204 (February 1973), Kanigher returned to script a story in which I Ching dies and Diana Prince is given amnesia. Paradise Island inexplicably returns to our dimension, and Wonder Woman regains her powers and memory. Diana Prince takes up a new job as an interpreter at the United Nations. Steve Trevor is resurrected by the god Eros, motivated by Wonder Woman's grief (Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #223 [May 1976]). Now young again (and a brunette), Steve Trevor took the name "Steve Howard".

In Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #228 (February 1977), writer Martin Pasko revamped Wonder Woman again. The popularity of the Lynda Carter TV show led Pasko to put Wonder Woman back in the 1940s. In the story that spun out over the next several issues, readers learned that the pre-1968 Wonder Woman and Steve Trevor actually lived on Earth-Two. They eventually married and had a super-powered daughter, Hippolyta Trevor (although she was not revealed until Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #300 [February 1983]).

The Earth-One Wonder Woman traveled to Earth-Two in 1943, replaced her counterpart, and interacted with the young Earth-Two Steve Trevor and the Justice Society of America. She returned to Earth-One in Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #244 (June 1978). "Steve Howard" was killed off again in Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #248 (October 1978) when Eros left his body.

28-year-old children's magazine publisher Jenette Kahn was appointed publisher of DC Comics on February 2, 1976. She ordered Steve Trevor returned to the book. In Wonder Woman #270 Vol. 1, (August 1980), the Steve Trevor from Earth-270 finds himself inexplicably on Earth-One. Aphrodite uses magic to erase any memories of the first Steve Trevor's death from everyone on Earth, and everyone assumes Steve Trevor-270 is Steve Trevor-1. With Wonder Woman sales declining rapidly, in 1982 Kahn ordered a revamp of the Amazon's appearance. Artist Milton Glaser replaced the eagle on her bodice with a stylized "WW".

Princess Diana learned the truth about the "new" Steve Trevor in Wonder Woman Vol. 1, #322 (December 1984). So Aphrodite extracted the memories of the first Steve Trevor from Eros, and implanted them in the Earth-270 version. Wonder Woman and everyone else seems happy with this, even though it effectively killed the personality of Trevor-270.

These changes proved a death-knell. Wonder Woman was canceled with issue #329 (February 1986). Steve Trevor finally learns Diana's secret, and they marry. During the Crisis on Infinite Earths (Crisis on Infinite Earths #12 [March 1986]), Wonder Woman is made a demi-god and goes to live on Olympus. Steve Trevor is made an immortal and goes to live with her there in eternal bliss.

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With Wonder Woman Vol. 2, #1 (February 1987), George Pérez, Len Wein, and Greg Potter rewrote Wonder Woman's origin story yet again. They used the "born of clay" origin and emphasized strongly her relationship with the Greco-Roman pantheon of gods. In this revamp, Diana Rockwell Trevor is a World War II WASP pilot who crash-lands on Paradise Island (now called Themyscira) and helps the Amazons defeat a monster with her pistol. She dies, and Hippolyta names her daughter Diana after this heroine. (It is from Diana Rockwell Trevor that Princess Diana also got her armor's colors and imagery.) Decades later, when Diana Rockwell Trevor's son, Steve, crashes on Themyscira, his American military insignia inspire Diana to go to the United States as the place to begin her battle with Ares. This version of Steve Trevor is several decades older than Princess Diana. He's married to Etta Candy and later becomes the Deputy Secretary of Defense.

The post-Crisis Diana is now the daughter of Zeus and Hippolyta, although still formed of clay. Her healing power is strongest when she's in contact with the earth, and she can physically merge with the earth to repair extreme injury or expel poison from her body. Wonder Woman can also communicate with all animals, including extinct ones, and has both telescopic vision and super-hearing. Instead of being resistant to electric shock, she's now resistant to flame. Whereas previously Wonder Woman "glided" on air currents, Princess Diana has both super-speed and the ability to fly at half the speed of light. Due to her divine origins, she can also resist many forms of magic and can astrally project herself into various lands of myth.

Wonder Woman dies at the hands of Neron, archangel of Hell, in Wonder Woman Vol. 2, #127 (November 1997). Diana was placed among the Olympian gods as Goddess of Truth. Hippolyta took over the mantle of Wonder Woman for several years, traveling back in time to the 1940s and joining the Justice Society and living there for almost a decade. (Hippolyta Trevor is retconned during these stories as the child of the 1940s heroine Fury.) It was at this time that Wonder Woman is first shown using a sword and shield. Princess Diana returned to Earth as an immortal Amazon in Wonder Woman Vol. 2, #136 (August 1998), angry at her mother for leaving Themyscira unruled. They never did resolve their differences, although Hippolyta traveled back in time to permanently join the Justice Society. (Hippolyta was eventually killed in Wonder Woman Vol. 2, #172 [September 2001].) Writer John Byrne led the "Hippolyta as Wonder Woman" effort. He said he loved the Pérez-Wein version, except for the fact that they made Diana a young woman. Hippolyta was meant to change that. (Hippolyta is resurrected by the witch Circe in Wonder Woman Vol. 3, #8 [June 2007].)

In September 2010, J. Michael Straczynski took over writing Wonder Woman. This story line, which lasted just 15 issues, had a trio of Death Goddesses retconning history so that Paradise Island has been destroyed and the Amazons scattered around the world. Diana is an orphan who has been raised in New York. Artist Jim Lee gave her a new costume with dark blue pants and dark blue long-sleeves, and almost no bodice emblem. Despite not having any memory, Wonder Woman gradually unravels their scheme and restores the timeline.

DC Comics rebooted their comic universe in 1994 with the "Zero Hour: Crisis in Time" crossover storyline. Wonder Woman survived that intact. DC rebooted their universe yet again in 2005-2006 with "Infinite Crisis", which saw Volume 2 of the Wonder Woman comic end and a new Volume 3 begin. (Wonder Woman is depicted as taking a year off during this period.) But once more, the Wonder Woman character emerged intact. Another reboot came in 2008 with "Final Crisis", but once more the character escaped any changes. Volume 1 numbering returned in 2010.

In 2011, DC Comics rebooted YET AGAIN with the "Flashpoint" story and "New 52" publishing effort. The endless reboots had not achieved the goal of bringing in new readers by making the comic book universe "understandable". Instead, the reboots created as many problems as they erased, and each reboot seemed to do worse than the one before. The "New 52" effort was intended to "soft-boot" the DC Comics universe, and not establish any "hard and fast" rules about the past. This allowed writers to ignore things they didn't like and keep elements they loved. Writer Brian Azzarello and artist Cliff Chiang decided to depict Wonder Woman as the biological daughter of Hippolyta and Zeus. Her bracelets hold her Zeusian powers (like lightning, explosion, thunderclaps, etc.) in check. Her combat skills are the result of receiving training from Ares, the God of War. Wonder Woman no longer has a secret identity, but occasionally uses the name "Diana Prince" when she needs to. Azzarello purposefully made Wonder Woman willing to take lethal action when no other choice was left open to her. Azzarello returned to the Pérez version of Princess Diana, making her young, headstrong, fierce, willful, and impulsive. Wonder Woman sees love as fiery and intense, not gooey and romantic. During this period, Wonder Woman kills Ares and gains the ability to telepathically interact with any soldier.

In 2016, DC Comics once again "soft-booted" all of its publications. While some characters retained their "New 52" backstories and personalities, others returned to their pre-"New 52" elements -- and some were an amalgam of both.

It's not clear what changes have been wrought with Wonder Woman. There are two ongoing story lines in the comic now. They run in parallel, every other issue. The "Year One" storyline retells Diana's childhood on Themyscira. Steve Trevor crashes on the island and Diana wins a contest to see which Amazon should take him home. The price is that she can never return. Incarcerated by the U.S. government, the gods give Diana super strength, speed, agility, durability, and flight. Her first battle is with Ares.

The "Lies" story arc is about Diana's search for Paradise Island and her discovery that it is actually a myth.

It's not clear where either story line is going, which is the truth, or anything else.

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